We do the best we can with what we have. All those who aren’t happy, you’re always to go back and ask for a refund … I apologize for being late, but there’s a lot that goes on to get this out to you. - Lauryn Hill, Dec. 28 performance in Brooklyn
By Arturo R. García
While not being race-centric per se, I did want to hear from the Lauryn Hill fans among us – especially if you went to the Dec. 28 show that started more than three hours late.
After some fans booed Hill when she finally took the stage – On The Red Carpet has video here – she said, “I spent my entire 20s sacrificing my life to give you love. So when I hear people complain, I don’t know what to tell you.”
But the question that’s been sticking in my mind since reading about that show is this: given that people went to see her in the wake of the snowstorm that hit New York over Christmas weekend, and the economy being what it is, when does fan expectation become entitlement? And when does showmanship cross over into self-indulgence?
The film “Bijli” opens with an off-key rendition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s haunting Sanu Ik Pal Chain Na Aave. The poetry of the song describes a man who cannot find a moment’s peace without his beloved. Some might consider this analogous to Bijli’s predicament as a woman trapped in a man’s body: constantly ill at ease without his other “half.” Bijli is Fayaaz, the drag alter ego of this Pakistani-born dancer, who presently resides in New York City.
This short film by filmmaker Adnan Malik is a 15-minute foray into a man’s struggle with gender identity, religion, and social acceptance set against the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. While Begum Nawazish has gained popularity internationally and in Pakistan, carving out a niche for himself as a “credible” entertainer, Bijli tells the story of a man who by day passes off as an ordinary New Yorker and by night transforms into “Bijli,” dancing on stage to Bollywood numbers in sequined chiffon, dainty wigs and fake eyelashes. The word “bijli” is Urdu for electricity or electric current and is a name bestowed upon the dancer by a writer who, for lack of a better word, found her “electrifying.”
By Guest Contributor Naima-Ramos Chapman, cross-posted from Colorlines
In their new music video for “New York is Killing Me,” Gil Scott-Heron and director Chris Cunningham turn popular characterizations of the Big Apple completely on their heads. The video, which was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan last week, has one simple message: it can be a cold, brutal place. But as a legendary artist, Heron’s bitter break up letter with the city has prompted some of hip-hop’s leading players to openly challenge its evils.
In this case, it’s a matter of cleverly mixed mediums that get the message across. Heron’s raspy vocals blend well with Cunningham’s visuals of alternating shots of the city, all in constant, dizzying motion. Subway tunnels, bridges, extreme aerial long shots of the city cloaked in darkness create a menacing mood for viewers. They easily conjure up feelings of destitution and grittiness for a city that over the past twenty years has become largely represented as the entertainment capital of the world.
When I first heard the track, I immediately thought of all the other highly-touted New York anthems. There’s Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and the recent Jay-Z-Alicia Keys collaboration “Empire State of Mind.” Those types of love letters contrast sharply with Heron’s gritty city journal. This is not a song about a glitz and glam New York whose “streets will inspire you.” According to Heron, it’s a lonely, cold, and bare city. For a die-hard New Yorker like myself, the song is a hard pill to swallow but once it goes down, it’s difficult not to sober up and realize how much this city’s inhabitants are hurting.
“I’ve said this to David Paterson, I said, ‘You know, get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, ‘Read my lips – the law of the land is this, and we’re going to enforce it”.
Indigenous Peoples remain the final “frontier” for colonization — where discrimination and a warped “civil religion” kind of thing permeates the american consciousness and allows, perhaps even encourages prejudice, suggestions of genocidal violence, and intention of direct harm with impunity – simply because of being Native. That’s the United States today, August 2010.
I took this white dude to the hospital seven years ago; he’d left his apartment door unlocked and then got pistol whipped when he came home to find someone going through his stuff.
Now why would I so clearly remember a minor injury from ages ago? Because in my eight years working EMS in Bed-Stuy, East New York, Harlem and the Bronx, that was the singular, solitary white patient I’ve had who was a victim of violence at the hands of a person of color. I remember sitting in the Woodhull ER with him. He was holding an ice pack to his little forehead gash and going “God! I can’t believe I got pistol whipped! It’s like…it’s like a movie!” At that point I had already given up checking the newspapers in the morning to see if any of my crazy jobs from the night before would show up. They never do; the patients are all black and brown and their tragedies, no matter how gruesome, are automatically deemed run-of-the-mill and unworthy for news attention.
In general, the white patients we get are either little old ladies; drunks who tried to play frogger across McGuinness Boulevard; college kid anxiety attacks and overdoses. We also get the occasional “All these Black people are trying to rape and kill me so I can’t leave my apartment!!” and sometimes “I stopped taking my meds and I’m about to do something really really bad.”
All this is to say that the amount of time and energy that white culture puts into being afraid of the crimes that will be committed against them in the ghetto could be better spent thinking about something that actually happens.